Friday, October 10, 2008

Maher has it Backwards

Let me first say that I like Bill Maher... a lot. I think his HBO show, Real Time, is first rate. His panel is always lively and informative. I agree with Bill, or can at least sympathize with his view, most of the time.

I am looking forward to seeing Bill's movie, Religulous, but reading some of the reviews I understand that I probably won't hear much different than what I have picked up on Real Time. Unfortunately, what I hear from Bill is well intended but backwards. Maher, like many atheists, believes that religion is the root of what ails us. If we could just do away with Religion, we would have a better world. I disagree with this view on many theological fronts, but let me give a non-theistic reason for disagreeing. I believe Maher is looking at an effect and calling it cause. Religion does not drive our dysfunction, it is merely the vehicle for much of it. If religion is not available, we will find many other things to demean and kill each other over. Like the Sneetches in Dr. Seuss, if the other group gets stars too, we will have ours removed. The stars are not the point. The point is the need to have an outside group, to have someone to be against, to beat, to conquer.

My friend and fellow blogger, Brook, made this point in a recent blog. He writes that most people today treat opposing viewpoints as if it were a sports competition. The other side does not need to be conversed with or understood... they need to be beaten.

I think Bill ends up supporting the very attitude he would like to see go away. I understand his frustration (and I often succumb to it myself), but his approach is just perpetuating the problem.

As Ghandi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."


Steve H. said...

Great entry Andy. I usually agree with Maher as well. Its funny though, when he gets to religion, he really does get it backward. Bill is usually very rational but on this topic, he vears off the road. He knows where he wants to take the car, he just often doesn't see he takes a very bumpy road getting there.

Redlefty said...

Good thoughts -- I've heard similar critiques of the movie from others as well.

Carol said...

I enjoyed the post. It does sound backwards. I think religion is a reflection of human nature, it good or bad in itself.

Lorena said...

Bill Maher has it exactly right. I've never heard him say anything about religion that wasn't correct.

He says it mockingly and loudly, but that is his style for EVERYTHING. Did you want him to change who he is just for the sake of religion?

Religion has so many willing "ears" that in order to be heard above the crowd, one has to scream. That's what he's doing. Being outrageous to be heard.

The hardcore religious are not going to hear him, as loud or as quiet as he may be.

But there is a sector of skeptics in the process of de-conversion who badly need the support and loud affirmation they receive from him, in order to know that they're not going crazy, that others have the same issues with the faith.

Andrew said...

Lorena - No, I don't want him to change (when it comes to his humor) and I understand your point. However, I also believe that Bill has a high sense of morality, and as such, desires this world to be better.

However, if one takes the approach of - Leave theism because it is self-righteous, caustic, exclusivistic, intolerant, etc.. and come be an athiest... where you can be self-righteous, caustic, exclusivistic, intolerant, etc.. then no real change is offered, it is a zero sum gain. It may scratch the itch of the complainer, but they aren't really offering a different way.

Many atheistic sub groups are no different than the religious fundamentalism I grew up in. It is all about being right, and everyone else being wrong.

However, I think there are many in theism and atheism that are seeking a third way. That is why I love the humanist Greg Epstein. He catches the vision that we have to get beyond all the sectarianism, no matter what stripe it presents itself in, and work to make our communities places that are founded on kindness and graciousness.

I really do like Bill Maher, but I am afraid when it comes to religion he is falling for the oldest trap in history - We become like that which we hate.

Lorena said...


you may be right. Some atheists aren't my kind of people either. I've found jerks who are atheists and others who are Christians. People will be people. Whether you are nice or obnoxious and self-righteous is BELIEF INDEPENDENT.

Our parents teach us good manners--or bad manners. The atheists you know that revolt your stomach would probably revolt mine too.

But I must say that the nice atheists I know are much more loving and accepting than the nice Christians I know. Because they're not trying to save me from anything. They're just trying to be my friends.

Bill Maher rocks. He is very good at using ridicule to bring a point home. His influence is not making anyone nicer or meaner. Atheists don't do what Bill Maher does; they do as they saw their parents do.

We all grow up to be our parents. Our behaviour is shaped in the first five years of life. You know that better than me, right?

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